Tue 4 Dec 2012
Recent research suggests that the “new” wears off a marriage after about 2 years.
In a hands-across-the-ocean project, American and European researchers tracked 1,761 people who managed to stay married for 15 years. The results? Their newlywed burst of “happy, happy, joy, joy” wore off after 2 years. Given the tragically high divorce rates, I’d love to know many people were in the initial group to allow researchers to end up with a sample of 1,761 still-marrieds-after-2-years. I’m betting – a lot.
The new love, the “passionate love” changed into “companionate love” after a couple of years. That meant that the state of intense desire and attraction became a state of deep affection and connection. The author of the NY Times op-ed, Sonja Lyubomirsky, suggests the transition occurs because humans are prone to “hedonic adaptation” – meaning that humans tend to take positive experiences for granted. Ms. Lyubomirsky states as follows:
Sexual passion and arousal are particularly prone to hedonic adaptation. Laboratory studies in places as far-flung as Melbourne, Australia, and Stony Brook, N.Y., are persuasive: both men and women are less aroused after they have repeatedly viewed the same erotic pictures or engaged in similar sexual fantasies. Familiarity may or may not breed contempt; but research suggests that it breeds indifference. Or, as Raymond Chandler wrote: “The first kiss is magic. The second is intimate. The third is routine.”
There are evolutionary, physiological and practical reasons passionate love is unlikely to endure for long. If we obsessed, endlessly, about our partners and had sex with them multiple times a day — every day — we would not be very productive at work or attentive to our children, our friends or our health. (To quote a line from the 2004 film “Before Sunset,” about two former lovers who chance to meet again after a decade, if passion did not fade, “we would end up doing nothing at all with our lives.” ) Indeed, the condition of being in love has a lot in common with the state of addiction and narcissism; if unabated, it will eventually exact a toll.
I agree with much of the author’s premise — but I very much DISAGREE with her conclusion. The intense, passionate characteristics of what the piece calls “new love” should only devolve permanently if it’s more lust than love. Real love – the enduring kind- is more like the ocean. Life and its complications may intervene and moods may rise and fall. All of that will – at times – make the water choppy and rough. There will be long sunny days where the water runs smooth. But always, always, there will be the waves — those events that kindle the spark and send you towering high above that normal, level water.
I was glad to see one finding of the study, though: researchers found that the rush of newlywed love is often repeated when a couple reaches the empty nest stage. See, that’s because the love didn’t devolve and dwindle – it was always there.
As to the author’s other point — Is love an addiction? She likens it to narcissism or self-love but to me, that’s the opposite of romantic love. Romantic love is putting someone else’s interests and desires first. It’s excellent training for becoming a parent, you know. Mother Nature is smart that way. The concept of caring that much for someone else doesn’t remind me of addiction. It reminds me more of dedication or devotion – like that moment when one of a person’s talents connects with a way to use them to build a career. I can see that addictive love would be prone to dwindle until it died, but dedicated, devoted love will continue like the roots of a tree – providing strength and support and nurture.
Real love isn’t an addiction – it’s a growth hormone!